Coalition for Community Schools National Forum 2014

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Community Schools: The Engine of Opportunity

The Coalition for Community Schools, working with its partners at  the Cincinnati Community Learning Center Institute and the Cincinnati Public Schools, convened the largest-ever gathering of community school practitioners and advocates during mid-April (9-11).  The Children’s Aid Society sent a 16-member delegation that included the entire National Center for Community  Schools staff team and many of our local Community School Directors and Program Directors.  NCCS also played key leadership roles in the conference—moderating panels, offering workshops, leading advocacy events and serving on the national planning committee. 

For NCCS, the Forum was a way of beginning the celebration of our 20th anniversary on a very high note.   NCCS director Jane Quinn received the Joy Dryfoos Community Schools Lifetime Achievement Award. Also, one of our close colleagues and most effective clients, José Muñoz, executive director of the ABC Community School Partnership, received the Community Schools Initiative Leadership Award for propelling the community schools forward in Albuquerque.  Further, the Coalition announced that, because of the exceptional success of the ABC Partnership, the next national Forum (in 2016) will be held in Albuquerque.    

The words of our colleague Lukas Weinstein, director of special projects at NCCS, capture the overall feeling of the national Forum: “There was incredible energy, both from being in Cincinnati, a leading city in this field, as well as that garnered from the recent expansion of community schools  on a national level.    Having such a powerful variety of players in one place only added to the momentum.  The most important thing going forward is to keep strategically channeling this kinetic energy as the catalyst that propels the work forward on a systemic level.”

Weinstein also noted the central role played by NCCS at the conference.  In addition to our workshops and presentations, a large number of colleagues came to us for guidance about starting or expanding community schools.  “We are absolutely the first stop for folks considering the community schools strategy, as well as an ongoing resource as initiatives mature, grow and develop.  As a practice-based Center with over 20 years of experience in the field, from our own schools to our work with every major initiative in the country and abroad, we offer support, guidance and expertise that is hard to match.”

For CAS staff attending the conference for the first time this was an enlightening experience.  “I remember learning about community schools when I started as a parent volunteer at PS 5.   It’s great to see that we have contributed to making this strategy recognized nationally and internationally…  and that people respect, trust and value our work,” notes Jeannette Then, community school director at P.S. 50 in East Harlem.  

Another first-time attendee, NCCS program assistant  Gail Grandison, summed up her experience by observing, “I was truly impressed with the wealth of information, passion and compassion at the conference; however, there is still so much more that needs to be done in order to close the gap between kids of different races and of different social classes.”

By bringing together 1,600 educators, parents, advocates, policy makers and funders from 38 states and 5 countries, the Coalition for Community Schools and its planning partners reaffirmed that this is a vibrant and rapidly growing movement—one that is demonstrating the value of community schools as a true engine of opportunity.  As we at NCCS celebrate our 20th anniversary, further inspired by the Forum’s energy, we renew our commitment to the strong vision of “every school a community school.”